I’ve been climbing a lot of stairs. By a lot, I mean at least 1200, 600 of which were steep and spiraling. It’s a great way to work off lunch, and the absolute best way to see a city.
Stairs Part I: Chartres Cathedral
I obviously hadn’t paid particularly close attention to my itinerary (whoops), because yesterday I boarded a bus to….Chartres? Yes, it turns out we were taking a day trip to a nearby Normandy town called Chartres before arriving in Paris, and I was the last one to realize it. The main attraction in Chartres (well, for us, anyway) was the old, beautiful, and currently under cleaning Cathedral. The Cathedral of Chartres is unique in that it still has most of its original stained glass windows in place and intact – from the 12th CENTURY. Because, you know, that’s when it was built. There’s something just awe-inspiring about being in a house of stone that’s three times as old as the United States.
But there was something else, too. A few years ago, the Cathedral managed to get together the money to begin a cleaning of its famous windows, yes, but also of the interior and exterior stone. What the cleaning crews found under 1000 years of dirt and pollution is absolutely incredible – the church is actually all white, and was built to be light, and bright, and full of dancing pieces of light, coming in through clear colored panes. The church isn’t exactly small, so they haven’t finished, which is exactly what is so striking:
My whole life, I just assumed that they used a darker stone to build churches, that Cathedrals were supposed to be a little grimy, and always, always dark on the inside. The better to see your candles, right? But no. When peasants came to pray in their places of worship, all those years ago, they came to shining, blinding monuments of glittering stone. They walked into cavernous spaces of airy light, of a ceiling so high and so clear it must have seemed like heaven.
And then we climbed three hundred steps to the top of that otherworldly ceiling, and I realized why people believed in angels. How could they not, nestled high up in the clouds, and looking at a dollhouse world beneath them?
Stairs Part II: Sacre Coeur
My first full day in Paris was packed. We only had one scheduled activity, The Monet Musee (which was breathtakingly inspiring), but a lot of will, and over the course of one Sunday – before dinner – we:
- Saw the largest collection of Monet’s work in the world.
- Ate at an Algerian-French fusion restaurant off a side street in the African Quarter.
- Climbed Sacre Couer…then climbed to the top of Sacre Coeur.
- Visited the square of artists next to the Sacre Coeur.
- Walked the Montmarte arondissment.
- Visited the Moulin Rouge.
Everything was amazing, but the view from the top of that church…we had to climb 300 tight, narrow, stone steps to get there, in what felt like an endlessly claustrophobic circle, but it was worth it. It was absolutely beautiful. I thought there simply couldn’t be a better view of the city, until…
Stairs Part III: The Eiffel Tower
We climbed 600 steps to the second level, and then took an elevator to the very, tippy top. Touristy? Yes. Gimmicky? Sure. Worth it? No doubt.
Legs of steel, people. And buns, too.